by Valerie Cardinal
This is probably one of the more authentic stagings of Shakespeare I’ve seen. As in the 16th century, the cast is all male. Unlike that time, the director is a woman. Although I have certain qualms about Shakespeare’s script, Eleanor Crowder brings in a female perspective that is evident in how the material is dealt with.
Taming of the Shrew centres on two sisters, the sweet and beautiful Bianca and the shrewish Kate. Their father decrees that Kate must be married before Bianca in order to fend off the younger daughter’s suitors. These suitors gather together to pay the visiting Petruchio to marry Kate – if he can tame her. Of course, since this is Shakespeare, mistaken identities and shenanigans ensue.
The tone of the night is set by the cast’s semi-musical stylings, set to get your attention and emphasize the silliness of the proceedings.
As Jessica Wei’s review of a Montreal production showed last year [ED: read comments], this story can spark some heated debate. Some say it’s sexist, some say it’s just Shakespeare. I think that all depends on how it’s interpreted, and here Eleanor Crowder really plays up the farcical elements.
The tone of the night is set by the cast’s semi-musical stylings, set to get your attention and emphasize the silliness of the proceedings. As Chris Bedford stepped out on stage wearing a dress and bonnet, carrying a guitar, I heard someone exclaim “oh my goodness!” Somehow, the sight of a bearded man in a corset and dress never gets old.
Our shrewish Kate is played by Nicholas Amott with gusto. His finest moment is his first appearance, when he stumbles down the stage in a drunken stupor with his dress and corset all askew.
Scott Florence’s Petruchio is a brash loudmouth, but I like that he doesn’t take himself too seriously. Just as Kate isn’t as subdued as she appears, I get the feeling that Petruchio isn’t as rude as he appears in public either.
A first for me was that Amott was nearly upstaged by Chris Bedford, who plays her sister Bianca. The way he floated across the stage in his puffy pink skirt made me giggle every time. Scott Humphrey makes a good dandy, playing up the campiness of the love-struck Lucentio.
There is some fantastic physical comedy here. Brie Barker, Guy Buller, Jim Murchison and Tim Oberholzer, who play all the other roles, throw themselves in with gusto whether they’re playing servants or suitors.
In this Taming of the Shrew, the focus is clearly less on the dialogue and more on the physical comedy. This is a very game performance with a lot of energy. Having men play women brings it up to the level of farce, and has a charming campiness to it. A slide whistle plays every time Bianca is mentioned. The cast frequently bursts into song. There’s even an audience participation segment where one of the actors borrows bits and pieces of clothing.
In a way, Kate feels like the only self-aware character in the play, and by the end she’s figured out that all the world’s a stage (whoops, wrong Shakespeare) and that all she needs to do is play along with it – in public. Eleanor Crowder definitely projects the image that Kate is trapped in world of farce.
You get a sense that even though Kate is putting on a good show at the end, she’s still a shrew underneath it all. Even better, I sensed that Petruchio wouldn’t change a thing about it, and that any normal woman couldn’t deal with his own strange character. It helps that Scott Florence and Nicholas Amott have great chemistry.
Taming of the Shrew is played with a slapstick attitude that would have been appropriate in Shakespeare’s time. Rachel Eugster’s musical direction and the cast’s frequent outbursts makes you want to sing along – and in 1594 you probably would have. I can imagine this being performed by a touring company in a park, which is exactly what Bear and Co. will be doing this summer with A Comedy of Errors.
Read also: A Fly On The Wall, Jim Murchison's column, in which he describes his preparation for this production.
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